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For a number of reasons, couples whose marriages are not working out may not necessarily want a divorce. In these cases, California allows couples to obtain a “legal separation.” And although a legal separation has many features similar to a divorce, there are important distinctions between divorce and legal separation that may make the latter a more suitable option for some couples. For further information and advice on your options, talk to one of the San Diego legal separation lawyers at Doppelt and Forney, APLC. We proudly assist family law clients in a wide variety of matters.What is a Legal Separation?
For some couples whose marriages encounter difficulties, divorce is not always desirable. Some may have religious objections to divorce. Divorce also might cause severe practical problems, such as the loss of employer-provided medical insurance to a spouse or step-child who needs care, or it might jeopardize the residency status of a non-citizen spouse. A couple may feel that their minor children need the assurance and stability of married parents, even if they no longer wish to live together. In other cases, a couple may simply want to avoid the finality of a divorce if they are not sure whether a divorce is what they really want.
In terms of legal status, the primary distinction between divorce and legal separation is that legal separation does not dissolve the marriage bond—the parties have separate legal status but remain technically married. This means that neither party has the freedom to remarry, and certain specific attributes of marriage—such as the right to remain on a spouse’s health insurance policy, as noted above—remain unchanged.
To be clear, a legal separation is not simply the separation that occurs when one spouse moves out of the house, usually as a prelude to divorce. While that is indeed a “separation,” it is not the same thing as a “legal separation.” Legal separation is a specific marital status and must be established by a legal process similar to divorce. It is not sufficient to simply make a private agreement with one’s spouse, although the spouses can enter into a private separation agreement that, if valid, would be enforceable as a contract. Legal separation, in contrast, requires court involvement. This makes it important to consider consulting a legal separation attorney in the San Diego area if you are considering taking this step.
Procedurally, unlike with divorce, there is no California residency requirement, and there is no waiting period. Once the legal separation judgment is issued, it is immediately effective. And while a spouse can file for a divorce even if the other spouse objects, legal separation requires a mutual agreement to separate, and the couple must assert the grounds for their separation—usually “irreconcilable differences.”
Just as divorce covers many family law matters like the division of assets and debts, support obligations, child custody, and so on, a legal separation will require the parties to negotiate, mediate, or litigate these matters in specific detail. The spouses are free to formulate their own arrangement regarding these matters, but the final agreement must be approved by a court, and then it becomes part of the legal separation decree.
Importantly, although a legal separation does not always precede a divorce, the terms put into place by a legal separation can influence a future divorce settlement if that is the ultimate outcome. Representation by a legal separation lawyer in San Diego is therefore important to protect your interests. The advice of an experienced attorney is critical in making sure that the decree adequately protects the rights and interests of the parties involved.Contact a San Diego Attorney to Discuss Your Situation
If you are undergoing difficulties in your marriage, but you are not sure that you want a divorce, you should take the time to find out whether legal separation or any other options that you may have may be right for you. For a free in-person or virtual consultation with a San Diego legal separation attorney, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC at 800.769.4748 or reach us online. We represent clients throughout the entire San Diego metropolitan area, including in Chula Vista, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista, La Jolla, Point Loma, Coronado, Del Mar, Ramona, El Cajon, and La Mesa.